Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Monday, November 29, 2010

Social Change in New England 1950-2000 6: introducing the writers

My last post in this series, Social Change in New England 1950-2000 5: end of local media ownership, looked at changes in the New England media. This post opens a new front, writing and cultural activities more broadly.

The following three posts all date from March this year. Each is personal, but each contains references to different aspects of social change in the period we are talking about.

By way of a general background comment, in looking at cultural activities such as writing, film and painting, my first concern has been simply documentation. In doing so, I have necessarily been drawn into questions such as the extent to which locale and life experiences affected the activity. This then draws me into the question of regional variation within New England, as well as changes in expression over time.

When I began, I doubted that there was such a thing as a New England tradition. Now I am not so sure, for I have begun to see patterns. What can be said, I think, is that our own lack of knowledge of our past rather short circuits the process because it limits the extent to which previous work feeds into new work.

What is also interesting is the growth in New England cultural activities of all types. There are just so many more New England writers or painters now than there were before. This is one of the positive sides of the changes that have taken place since 1950.

The first post, Literature, locale and license, was written following my return from Armidale in March this year. Here I want to point to three elements.

The first is the role of the University of New England including university extension in feeding local cultural activities, a theme I return to in the third post, Writing, film and New England perceptions. This is a major theme that I will return too later in this series.

Within this first post, note the role played by local offices in Aboriginal advancement.

New England has a very large Aboriginal population. The changes that that population experienced form another element in my story. The history of Aboriginal people in NSW is not just Redfern or the Block, nor is it the Sydney University student rides, although those rides form one element in the story. New England's Aboriginal peoples have their own story, as do the changing reactions of local people.

By the end of the period Aboriginal writers were beginning to present their own past. Ruby Ginibi may have left the North for Sydney at the age of 15, but many of her books are the discovery of her own Northern past. In similar vein, the Aboriginal language revival movement is a re-discovery of another element of New England's Aboriginal past.

The Aboriginal story is another major theme in the story of New England social change after 1950.

The second post, Ryan, Niland, Keneally and the New England story, looks at some of the writers. You will see my frustration at our failure to recognise our own past, a theme continued in the third post. I am less negative here than I was, simply because I think that the cumulative effect of the mass of work is growing. 

The posts follow. Again, I hope that you enjoy them with all their imperfections.      

Literature, locale and license, 23 March 2010

Back from Armidale Sunday. It was too difficult to post while I was away. Then yesterday a fair bit of wheel spinning and catching up.

I really enjoyed the trip. However, as is so often the case with research, I ended up with more questions than answers!

One difficulty of trying to write a general history of an area, in my case the broader New England, lies in the decision as to what to include, exclude. Here I complicated my life by spending some time with John Ryan.

John came to the English Department at the University of New England in 1959, and is still teaching on a part time basis. That's a very long time. It's a bit frightening to think that I have known John since 1963.

Actively involved in university extension, John has also written extensively on things Northern. Here he defines just one of his interests as New England Heritage matters, especially the writings, customs, legends and other folk materials relating to the Northern third of New South Wales.

There were two main areas in my discussion with John that drew out my own lack of knowledge.

The first was the role of he University extension offices. These were established in Lismore, Grafton, Port Macquarie and Tamworth, providing University outreach at a time when far fewer options were available. Of course I knew the story in a general sense, but I had not realised some of the local impacts.

I knew of the role that the central campus had played in Aboriginal studies, for example, but did not know of the role played at local level by people such as the Lismore based R M (Max) Praed. In early 1974, for example, the Lismore and Grafton offices combined with Federal funding to run a four day workshop     

in human relations and community organization ... open to Aboriginal people who wish to improve their leadership skills and develop an understanding of the changes taking place in Aboriginal society.

Unlike previous workshops where most participants had been men and women involved in voluntary organizations or in full-time positions in government and private agencies concerned with Aboriginal Affairs, this one made specific provision for inclusion of Aboriginal young people.

Of itself, not such a big deal perhaps. However, if you look at the planning committee you get a feel for the spread of interests:  

  • Ted Fields, Aboriginal Field Officer, Credit
    Union League.
  • Ray Kelly, Aboriginal Research Officer, National
    Parks and Wildlife Service.
  • Bob Walford, Field Officer, Aboriginal Tutorial
    Scheme, Armidale and President Armidale
    Aboriginal Association.
  • Terry Widders, Secretary, Commission on
    Aboriginal Development, Australian Council of
  • Lilla Watson, University Student, Brisbane.
  • Frank Wigham (Workshop Director), Department
    of University Extension, University of New
    England, Grafton.
  • Dr Ned Iceton, U.N.E. Department of University
    Extension, Armidale.
  • Max Praed, U.N.E. Department of University
    Extension, Armidale.

There are two major sub-texts here: one is Aboriginal advancement, the second a broader one linked to the introduction of University education to people who had had no previous direct contact with tertiary education.

The second area where discussions with John revealed my own lack of knowledge lay in the field of writing itself. I have often commented on the number of writers with New England connections, but did not realise that I had barely scratched the surface. John pointed me towards North Coast writers and literary traditions that I was simply unaware of.

A little later I acquired a copy of His Tales From New England (2008), a series of essays on various writers with New England and especially Tablelands connections. Some I knew, some I did not. Even for those I did know, I learned new things. There is almost an embarrassment of riches.

In 1974, the publication of Death of An Old Goat in the British Collins Crime Club format launched Robert Barnard's international crime writing career. The plot deals with the attempts by a young English lecturer Bob Bascomb to assist police in solving the apparently motiveless murder of a recently arrived visitor to the Department of English at the University of Drummondale.

Drummondale is, of course, Armidale, while Bascombe is based in part on Barnard himself. Barnard arrived in Armidale early in 1961 as an English lecturer, leaving at the end of 1965 to take a post at the University of Bergen in Norway. While in Armidale, he married local girl Mary Tabor, a graduate librarian with a degree in French and English.

The book is a sometimes very funny, satirical and a somewhat cruel picture of life in Armidale and at the university in the 1960s. It is especially funny in places to those who know Armidale because of the tendency to play spot the person.

Clearly Barnard's book provides one picture of life, but it was only a partial picture and needs to be balanced with other accounts. This was, for example, the period of university out reach that I described earlier. 

I have at least read Death of an Old Goat. However, the same cannot be said for all the others discussed by John Ryan. He discusses ten writers in all, in some cases with multiple books with New England connections. In some cases I have not read the books at all, in other cases not for a long while.

As you might expect, there are links and cross-links. I will explore these properly later on my New England blogs. What I would like to show is how literature, locale and sometimes license interact with history; it is a story of writers, but also of relations between writers and their environment. 

Ryan, Niland, Keneally and the New England story, March 30, 2010

Sometimes there is just so much material around that I don't know where to begin.

I have been working my way through and cross-reading three books at the same time - High Lean Country, Tales from New England and A spirit of true learning. All three are recent or relatively recent publications, all three deal with aspects of New England. Two of the three are linked to the Heritage Futures Research Centre at the University of New England, a multidisciplinary group that I am now affiliated with.

  I will write more on this on the New England blogs. For the moment, I want to point to just a few features, following up on an earlier post here, Literature, locale and license.

The first is the question of identity. New England has an identity, but what is it? You see, there are multiple New Englands whose meaning and boundaries have changed. This leads to confusion unless terms are clearly specified.

The second is the way that identity is re-shaped, re-formed by presentation or the lack of it. Let me illustrate by example.

D'Arcy Niland is a well known Australian writer.  His book The Shiralee (1955), the story of a swagman or itinerant worker and his 4-year-old daughter, was made into a successful 1957 movie staring Peter Finch and then in 1987 into a very popular TV mini-series. All this is part of Australian cultural history and indeed the continued shaping of Australians' own sense of self-identity.

I saw the first movie and indeed the mini-series. However, at no stage did I connect either with New England, yet the book is a New England story. Does this matter? Well, no and yes.

At national level, perhaps not. At New England level, certainly, for D'Arcy Niland is part of New England's cultural and social history.

According to Bruce Moore's Australian Dictionary of Biography entry (link above), D'Arcy Niland was born on 20 October 1917 at Glen Innes, eldest of six children of native-born parents Francis Augustus Niland, a cooper who became a woolclasser, and his wife Barbara Lucy, née Egan. The family was of Irish-Catholic ancestry, a background which was to feed into much of Niland's writing. He was named after the boxer Les Darcy, but later spelt his Christian name 'D'Arcy'.

Now already in terms of New England social history we can place Niland in a particular social context, but there is more.

Niland was educated at the convent of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, Glen Innes.

What the ADB entry does not say is that the Sisters of St Joseph, the order found by Mary McKillop, played a major role in the development of the Roman Catholic education system within New England. Many years later, the Sisters were to be one of my consulting clients, something that was invaluable in giving me a feel for the order, the emotional content and texture if you like. This has been very helpful in my writing in a general sense, for I come from a Protestant background.

The ADB entry also fails to mention that it was the Sisters, one in particular, who encouraged Niland's interest in writing. Again, this is important in the context of New England's social and cultural history.

I am not criticising Bruce Moore's ADB entry, by the way, in saying all this. By their nature, these entries are always summaries.        

The ADB entry notes that Niland left school at the age of 14, hoping to become a writer. For two years he accompanied his father around the local shearing sheds and had first-hand experience of the effects of the Depression in rural areas. At 16 he gained the position of copy-boy at the Sydney Sun newspaper, a potential stepping-stone to a career as a journalist, but he was retrenched after a year. He returned to the country, taking up whatever work was available. By the late 1930s he was back in Sydney, earning his living as a railway porter. He was rejected for military service in World War II because of a cardiac condition. Under the orders of the Directorate of Manpower, he worked in the shearing sheds of north-west New South Wales.

This potted history is quite important for The Shiralee. In 1952, Niland was awarded £600 by the Commonwealth Literary Fund to write a novel. He again took to the road for research, leading to The Shiralee. Yet, and as I think John Ryan has proved quite conclusively, the picture of life in the novel is not in fact a picture of rural life in New England in the early 1950s, but an amalgam of far earlier experiences. 

Before going on, in 1942 Niland married married Ruth Park, a 23-year-old journalist from New Zealand. As I remember it, they had originally started corresponding while Niland was a student at St Joseph's. The couple decided to pursue professional writing careers with considerable success.

Kilmeny (and here), one of their twin daughters, also became a successful writer and illustrator. Kilmeny married Rafe Champion, among other things now a well known Australian blogger, in 1979. Later, Rafe would collaborate with Ruth Park using D'Arcy Niland's earlier extensive research to produce a biography of Les Darcy, Home Before Dark (Melbourne, 1995).      

I seem to have side-tracked a little.

D'Arcy Niland is clearly an important relevant to any history of New England. But is the New England experience relevant to broader Australian history? I would argue yes.

My failure to connect The Shiralee to my own experience and area is in part a reflection of the fact that I had not read the book. However, it also reflects that fact that there was nothing in my environment to tell me that it was relevant. This is what I mean when I say that identity is re-shaped, re-formed by presentation or the lack of it.

The Shiralee case is not an isolated example.

When I saw the 1977 Australian movie the Picture Show Man I thought that some of the scenes looked familiar. I had no idea until yesterday that the film was filmed in New England, nor that the story was based in part on the story of a Tamworth family.

Or take the case of the 1978 film The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith. This film is part set in and part filmed in New England. It is, in fact, based on one of no less than three books by Australian writer Thomas Keneally set at least in part in New England and influenced by his time at the University of New England (1968-70) as well as the experiences of cousins there. Internationally, Keneally is best known for the book and film Schindler's List, but the New England experience and focus is still interesting.

Again, I had no idea of the depth of the Keneally connection.

The books that I am reading are important, I think, because their regional focus documents and presents the regional story, but in a frame that provides broader national context. They tell a story that is relevant to me as a New Englander, but also a story that is relevant to me as an Australian or, sometimes, a Kiwi!

They also provide a spur to my writing, for I am not alone, but part of a writing tradition. 

Writing, film and New England perceptions, March 30, 2010

Ryan, Niland, Keneally and the New England story on my personal blog looks at some threads in the New England literary and film tradition.

I wrote the story there because I was exploring ideas from a personal perspective. I want to extend the argument here along two dimensions: first, the importance as I see it for all those in New England to have access to their own culture and past; second, the need to redress what I see as an imbalance towards the Tablelands in general and Armidale in particular.

  Take as an example of the first the 1977 Australian movie the Picture Show Man. As I said, when I saw it, I thought that it was familiar. Yet I didn't properly realise that it was shot on the Liverpool Plains and the Clarence. Had I known that, I would have watched the detail much more closely.

When you don't see your world reflected back, it takes much longer to form and refine the iconic images that help define our own worlds. One of the reasons that Harry Pidgeon's paintings so appealed to me is that they live in and capture the world especially of the western slopes. I saw them as iconic in Liverpool Plains terms, capturing too the transition between tablelands and plains.

The colours of New England was part inspired by Harry's paintings. In it, I tried to capture the variations in colour across the broader New England, to write in a way that would make this accessible not just to New Englanders, but also to those beyond.

I think that this remains important. I cannot paint or express things via music. The only instrument I have to show New Englanders their world is my capacity to write, however imperfectly.

This brings me to my second point.

In 1920 the first New State manifesto, Australia Subdivided, put a key problem facing the North in this way: In Northern New South Wales, a few high schools, no technical schools, no universities exist to retain the intelligence and culture of the area[1].

The manifesto was dead right. One outcome of the subsequent campaigns was the establishment of the University of New England. UNE has delivered in spades in terms of the plaint of the authors of Australia Subdivided, yet I remain dissatisfied.

The establishment first of the Armidale Teacher's College in 1928 and then the University College in Armidale in 1938 supported growth in the arts of all types. One element of this was a growth in writing and in writing about writing. Part of this was connected with the Northern mission, part simply reflected the increasing presence in Armidale of an educated group who wanted to write or saw writing as a weapon.

With time, this led to a very substantial volume of work across many fields. Yet a problem has emerged.

For a number of reasons that lie beyond the scope of this post, UNE's regional focus narrowed. As a simple example to illustrate this point, the last book on New England prehistory was published in 1974. Increasingly, too, the regional work that has been published focused on the Tablelands and Western Slopes.

Before going on, I would love to be corrected in the argument that I am now about to mount. I accept that my knowledge is imperfect. If I am wrong, please correct me.

I grew up in an expansive Northern or New England world. I am Tablelands, but also knew the North Coast, the Western Slopes, the Hunter and a little late but less perfectly the Plains. I saw all this as, if you like, my world.        

To my mind, the partial withdrawal of the University of New England from its original and broader mission as the Sydney University of the North has created a gap. When I look at writing about writing or Northern or New England culture, for example, I now find a fair bit about just one area of the North, very little about the rest.

I find this very frustrating. As I said, it may be that I simply don't know what is there, yet I think that there is a real gap. I know enough in some ways to write a broad brush descriptions of similarities and links across New England, yet the material I have seen suggests that I barely understand.

[1] E Page and others (eds), Australia Subdivided, The First New State, Examiner Printing Works, Glen Innes, 1920, p10.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Social Change in New England 1950-2000 5: end of local media ownership

This post, Saturday Morning Musings - more on the media, was first posted on 27 December 2008. While not written as a history piece as such, it does present another aspect of social change in the period 1950-2000.

In 1950 with, I think, the exception of the Fairfax owned Newcastle Herald, all newspapers and radio stations were New England owned. When TV came to New England in the 1960s, all the new stations from Newcastle north were established by existing New England media interests.

I have yet to check the status of NBN. Putting NBN aside, and with a few exceptions limited to smaller independent newspapers, local ownership had vanished by 2000. 

Saturday Morning Musings - more on the media

My post More on perceptions, selection and bias in the Australian media drew an informed comment from Michael Gorey, the editor of The Border Watch in Mount Gambier.

Michael's personal web site can be found here, his blog on newspaper matters here. Michael began his career as a journalist in, I think, 1987 and has had extensive experience with the non-metro press.

I plan to use Michael's comments to extend my arguments with a special focus on New England media's newspapers. However, I want to set the scene first, so bear with me while I ask you to do something.

First click here and then on the NSW tab. A window will open up showing all the Rural Press owned newspapers in NSW. A lot, aren't there?

What will be less clear unless you really know your geography, is that with the exception of a few independent community papers, Rural Press owns every New England newspaper in Newcastle and Hunter, the Northern Tablelands, Western Slopes and the Mid North Coast up to Coffs Harbour. This is an almost complete monopoly.

Now click here and you will find the APN papers. APN owns major papers from Coffs Harbour through the Northern Rivers into Southern Queensland. Two companies thus control New England's newspaper press, each with something approaching a monopoly in specific regional areas.

If we compare this with 1968, the comparison point I used in my previous post, the Newcastle daily was owned by John Fairfax and controlled out of Sydney.

The other four Northern dailies (Maitland Mercury, Northern Daily Leader, Grafton Examiner, Northern Star) cooperated as they had done since the 1920s through the Associated Northern Dailies. This provided a joint marketing platform. They and the other generally locally owned New England papers also cooperated through the Country Press Association, an active and influential organisation representing the independence and interests of the country press.

As I said with the previous post, this is not a history post. However,this brief background sets a context for my discussion of Michael's comments.

Michael wrote:

Country papers: Rural Press has cut them to the bone and introduced syndicated content which nobody wants to read. Their niche is local news. Those papers that also own the web space will do well.

Michael's comment here is the tip of a rather large iceberg.

Both Rural Press and APN Regional have been very profitable entities, yielding better returns than the major dailies. This return has been based in part on their local monopolies, in part on their business models.

The New England and country press and, more broadly, the country media have not always been so profitable.

The press operated as a business, but they did not see their key roles in business terms. They had to make money, but the delivery of news and the representation of the local community was the key, not a constant increase in shareholder returns.

All the New England media - press, radio and later TV - faced similar commercial difficulties.

Because of the research I was doing at the time, I read the board papers of the Armidale Express, Broadcast Amalgamated (the Tamworth Higginbotham family controlled company that ran the New England radio network) and the first years of TV New England.

The same issues recurred. How to meet the increasing fixed costs imposed by Government regulations and by changing technology? How to spread maintenance costs? How to find more cost effective ways of accessing city and national advertisers?

A small example to illustrate the point. Changes to NSW industrial legislation in the 1950s required the Armidale Express to install a staff toilet. This may sound a small and very reasonable thing. However, the capital costs involved in modifying the building were substantial and were the subject of considerable Board discussion. The Board worried about their ability to maintain local independence in the face of increasing fixed costs.

They were right to worry.

To improve economics, the Board agreed a little later to merge The Express with the Sommerlad controlled Northern Newspapers, creating an entity with papers in Armidale, Glen Innes and Inverell, plus a 50 per cent share in 2AD Armidale.

Then a little later again, Rural Press made an unsolicited bid. I actually tried to fight this takeover, in part because I thought the price was too low, in part to preserve Northern Newspaper's independence because I saw the move as yet another loss of New England independence. I had enough proxies to force a very long meeting - the cups set out for morning tea went unused as the shareholder meeting dragged on and on - but in the end I lost.

I was in fact right on both counts. However, that is little consolation.

Rural Press greatly improved the economics of the papers it acquired.

It centralised many activities including printing, so the Express as an example came to be printed in Tamworth. It cut news gathering costs. It introduced network supplements, the syndicated content that Michael refers to, that increased advertising and bulk. And, finally, the size of news content in the paper was directly linked to the volume of advertising, not the volume of news. This was not necessarily immediately clear because of all the other stuff included in the papers.

I will not deal with Michael's comment about web space in this post because I want to make it the subject of a full post. For the moment, I would simply note that Rural Press has been very profitable, but this has come at a local cost.

Michael continued:

Reporter opinion: There should be no such thing. Newspapers should report, not commentate. I know there's a trend towards "campaign journalism" especially at APN papers, but I don't agree with it.

Now here I absolutely agree with Michael, while also disagreeing with him at a different level. This second level raises a number of complexities that bear upon my concern about selection, perception and bias in the Australian media.

Reporting is reporting. If a journalist wants to commentate, then (like me) they can start blogging or write opinion columns. If they are dealing with news, then they should just report. This actually requires a fair degree of discipline, something that I feel is lacking today.

The question of newspaper campaigning is more complicated.

The relationship between the country media and their audience is a complicated one that is very different from the city equivalent.

To begin with, there is a very different personal relationship in that country journalists live in the community in a very different way.

Growing up in Armidale, the Express editor (Roy Blake) lived one block up, half a block in the opposite direction lived the main Express journalist (Mr White). A little later on the opposite corner to the Blakes lived the woman in love with a radio station reporter. In two out of three cases, I was friendly with the daughter. One of my nicknames, Chalky, comes from my friendship at primary school with Margaret White.

This is a completely different world, one in which personal relationships have to be taken into account. The type of journalism practiced in Sydney may simply tear a community apart. This means that different set of ethical and professional issues are involved.

Country papers are also journals of record and voices for their communities in ways inconceivable to their metro cousins. This is where issues of campaigning come in.

The Sommerlads were a German family who migrated to Tenterfield. Ernest Sommerlad became a reporter on the Inverell paper and then with assistance from friends purchased the Glen Innes paper. The Sommerlads became one of the major New England press families, one inextricably linked with my own family.

In 1950, Sommerlad published MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD. A Handbook on Journalism, Broadcasting, Propaganda, Public Relations and Advertising (Angus & Robertson). In this, I think the first ever Australian book on journalism, Sommerlad discussed in part the relationships between press and community.

We need to set a context here.

A strong supporter of self-government for the North or New England, Sommerlad campaigned actively for country development and the new state cause, using the editorial columns in his papers as one vehicle. In Mightier than the Sword he explained, simply, that part of the role of a newspaper was to campaign for the interests of its own area. The paper and the people it served were inextricably mixed.

This is a little different from Sydney's Granny Herald where the paper is happy to fulminate on a variety of issues that really have little to do with Sydney's concerns. However, in both cases the same issue arises: how do your make a distinction between the paper's editorial position and reporting? One reflects views, the second is meant to be factual, objective.

I think that the key is to be conscious of the different roles. Once, as has happened recently with some of the SMH's campaigns, reporting and campaign become mixed, then there is a problem.

I want to finish by linking the discussion back to Rural Press and APN.

A few years back I was on the periphery of marketing Country Week to Rural Press.

Developed by Armidale's Peter Bailey, the Country Week concept was simple enough. Given the systemic problems stopping Sydney people moving to country New South Wales, let's get all country areas to combine in a single annual marketing push to sell the country story to Sydney residents. The response from Rural Press illustrated the problems created by current media structures.

In the past, the need to individually approach multiple papers would have been a problem. In theory, concentration of ownership might help. The reality was very different.

To begin with, we had two main owners, Rural and APN. Take one, and you lost the other. This one was fairly clear cut - Rural Press had better NSW coverage, so APN was out even if this meant loss of Northern Rivers coverage.

We then faced two problems. Rural Press explained that they could not direct their papers' editorial content. They were prepared to consider broad sponsorship so long as we could guarantee a cash return from advertising and, as part of this, would let their papers know. After that, it was up to the papers and to the amount of advertising that could be placed with individual papers.

In the 1919 Victor Thompson editor of the Tamworth Observer (now Victor ThompsonNorthern Daily Leader) and with the support of his board began planning a campaign for a new state for Northern New South Wales. This quickly grew into a newspaper campaign involving 120 newspapers.

With modern ownership structures, this type of coordinated campaign is now very difficult.

The fact that the owners leave formal editorial independence to their editors means that you still have to coordinate at local level. However, when push comes to shove, those editors must still meet their revenue targets. Further, broader non-local campaigns that raise corporate issues do end being considered at head office notwithstanding editorial independence, if only because such campaigns involve cost.

For Thompson to do today what he did in the early 1920s he would probably need to get senior management, possibly board, support from Fairfax (Rural Press is now part of Fairfax) and APN. Both companies would need to at least agree to let editors participate. He would then need, as earlier, to sell the idea to individual editors. I don't think that this possible.

I will pause here. I hope that I have at least fleshed out some of the issues involved.


Rod Kirkpatrick's history of the NSW country press is entitled Country Conscience. That was what the country press was and, to a degree, still is.

One of the sad side effects of the growth in concentration of ownership of the country media was an inevitable decline in the role and influence of the Country Press Association as the Association struggled with changing economic and ownership conditions.

The Association's history, Serving the Country Press 1900 - 2000 by Lloyd Sommerlad with a chapter by David Sommerlad, charts some of this.

Reading between the lines, the growing influence of Rural Press led to APN's withdrawal, leaving the Association without representation north of the Bellinger Valley. APN rejoined, but seems to have left again because none of its papers are included in the latest membership list.

In a comment on this post, Michael refers to the young age of some of the country journalists and editors. There is, to my mind, a substantial difference between the old country press where editors had a long term commitment to their community and the new world where placement at a paper is one step in a career path within a large organisation.

Has the country press maintained its soul? I'm not sure.

I do know from reading many of the papers that the idea of service to the community is still there. However, there is less continuity and, I feel, cooperation across areas.

From a narrow New England perspective, the changes that have taken place continue New England's fragmentation. Rural Press looks to Sydney, APN to South East Queensland. Neither looks to New England.


Michael said...

Jim, I think you've tackled the issue of campaign journalism more thoroughly than I did in one sentence, and I agree with what you wrote.
Papers will adopt a cause from time to time and that's appropriate. Through their reporting they have an advocacy role on behalf of their communities.
This is a significant responsibility and I wonder how 25-year-old editors with three years experience in the industry (as occurs frequently in country areas) deal with it.
In Western Australia there's hardly a single reporter in country areas over the age of 30.
What I object to is journalists writing opinion pieces and allowing unattributed opinion to appear in news reports.
Like you say, start a blog if that's what they want to do.
As for infotainment, I'm not keen on the celebrity stuff that seems to be so popular on newspaper websites and appears in weekend papers, generally syndicated.
There's nothing wrong with lifestyle content. At The Border Watch I run daily lifestyle features on EGN pages, eg recipe, music, career, etc. The reporters have a roster and they enjoy writing them.
The generic lift-outs have little appeal to me and I wonder how many people bother to read them.
Fairfax faces a huge challenge in the recession. There's nothing left to cut (at most regional papers), so costs can't be reined in more than they have been already.
The Australian Press Council's state of the media report talks about a flight to quality. Country papers have a niche with local news and they need to invest in their products to exploit that niche.
Interesting times ahead.

6:07 PM, December 27, 2008

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks for the comment, Michael. I have extended the post a little in response.
I agree very strongly with you points re quality and local news. I want to write about this because I feel that the papers are not tackling this at all well.
At a corporate level, Rural is miles in front of APN in capturing some of the benefits of the on-line world. At a local newspaper level, neither is very good.

11:08 PM, December 27, 2008

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Social Change in New England 1950-2000 4: Generational Change and the 1970s

The following post originally posted on 4 May 2010 extends the argument in my last post in this series, Social Change in New England 1950-2000 3: Church, state and social change in Australia. The post  again looks at change in part through a frame set by my own experience.

The previous post focused on three books, Kenneth Dempsey's Conflict and Decline: Ministers and laymen in an Australian country town (Methuen Australia, North Ryde, 1983);  Pauline Kneipp's This Land of Promise. The Ursuline Order in Australia 1882-1982 (University of New England History Series 2, Armidale, 1982); and  Don Aitkin's The Country Party in New South Wales: a study of organisation and survival (Australian National University Press, 1972).

Each book dealt in part with one aspect of social change. This post looks at further aspects of change, in so doing bringing in the book I covered in my second post in this series, Social Change in New England 1950-2000 2: Don Aitkin's What was it all for?.

The 1970s were a tip decade in New England, Australia and beyond. By tip decade, I mean simply that this was a decade in which one social and intellectual paradigm was replaced by another. The changes began before the 1970s and continued after, but the 1970s were critical.

The post begins with the 1968 English class at Sydney's Cronulla High School. This shows a class on the cusp of change. It then looks at aspects of change through various eyes, including my own.

The rise and fall of religious beliefs at the University of New England is one aspect of the process.In comments on the original post, Winton Bates and I talk about other elements of change at UNE, including the room visiting imbroglio. Winton's then fulminations in the student newspaper score a considerable discussion in Mathew Jordon's history of UNE.

At this stage, I do not know to what extent the University of Newcastle went through similar change process to UNE. UNE is simply better recorded.

The post also introduces the counter-culture movement of the 1960s and 1970s. The sub-tropical environment of New England's North Coast, its then low population, made it something of a mecca for those seeking an alternative life style. As a consequence, New England was at the leading edge for those elsewhere in Australia pursuing the new vision.

it's not just Nimbin or Byron Bay, but other places such as Bellingen or Uralla.

The post follows. Again, I hope that you will enjoy it and forgive me for the personal focus.      

Generational Change and the 1970s

Neil Whitfield had a rather wonderful photo from Cronulla High School (Sydney) supplied by Marilyn Markham (Berriman)that I am going to take the liberty of reproducing in a moment. An explanation first.

One of the things that interests me as an analyst and historian is the process of social change and the way this moves in generational waves. Sometimes the process is slow, then at other times you can get sudden shifts.

One way of understanding the process is to look at particular individuals or groups from different points in time and then compare.

Cronulla High 1968 This photo shows the 1968 English class from Cronulla High School in 1968. They all look very prim and proper.

I am guessing ages, but I suspect that they are around  eighteen, so born in 1950.

Keith Leopold was born on 30 July 1920, completed the NSW Leaving Certificate in 1937, then entered the newly established New England University College in 1938 as a seventeen year old. His Came to Booloominbah: a country scholar's progress 1938-1942 (University of New England Press, Armidale 1988) provides a picture of school and especially university life at the start of and during the early Second World War period.

I am not sure when Professor Don Aitkin was born, probably 1936, given that he did the Leaving Certificate at Armidale High School in 1953. His What was it all for? The Reshaping of Australia. (Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, 2005) is a social history exploring social change in Australia through the eyes of the Armidale High School Leaving Certificate class of 1953.

Now how does this all fit with the Cronulla High School Class of 1968? Well, this class was right on the tip point of the changes that would make the 1970s such a significant decade from the viewpoint of Australian social history, the ending of a more formal era that had began in Australia around the middle of the nineteenth century.

John Ferry's Colonial Armidale (Queensland University Press, 1999) provides a picture of social life in one locality. In doing so, he traces the rise of respectability, the establishment of social order to replace the disorder of the previous pioneer, frontier society. This creation of what are now called Victorian values was not unique to Armidale, nor to Australia.

The big shocks of the first part of the Twentieth Century - the First World War, the Great Depression and the Second World War - shook that respectability, but it re-asserted itself. Part of the reason for this lay in the size and timing of the shocks themselves.

An Australian born in 1890 immediately experienced the 1890s' depression including a great drought, twelve years later came the First World War, ten years after that the Great Depression, a depression that was just easing as the Second World War began. By the end of the Second World War, our now fifty five year old Australian would have experienced some eleven years of full scale war, twenty plus years of depression or recession and, at best, twenty four years of economic growth. While each major shock brought about changes, there was also a conscious desire among many to return to a preserve stability.

I recognise that I am generalising, and that there were always groups within Australia that had different views. However, if you look at John Ferry's history of colonial Armidale, at Keith Leopold, at Don Aitkin, you can see what I mean. It wasn't just attitudes towards sex or gender roles, but the very formalities of manners themselves.

To the eighteen year olds of the Cronulla High School Class of 1968, the world was a far more prosperous and peaceful place than that their parents had known. There had been periodic downturns and crashes including that of 1961, but they had never known a period of severe unemployment, while the increased supply of, and reduced real price for, consumer goods made for a previously unparalleled material wealth. They still lived in a world where the old formalities of manners applied including gloves for girls, but the world was already changing.

When I did the Leaving Certificate some years after Don, the secondary school I went to in Armidale (THe Armidale School) still had structures, formalities and manners that would have been familiar to the various generations of boys that had gone there since its establishment in 1894. The University of New England, too, when I became a student in 1963 would have seemed familiar in many ways to that Keith Leopold found in 1938 or Don Aitkin in 1954. Yet the University I found in 1963 was already in transition.

Don Beer was a lecturer in history at UNE when I was there as an undergraduate. The abstract to his The Holiest Campus', its Decline and Transformation: The University of New England, 1946–79 (Journal of Religious History, Volume 21 Issue 3, Pages 318 - 336) summarises one aspect of then UNE life in this way:

In the mid-1960s and possibly earlier the University of New England (UNE), located at Armidale in rural New South Wales, was reputed to be 'the holiest campus' in Australia. The article finds a considerable body of evidence to give credibility to this view. It argues that UNE was relatively religious because it drew more of its students from the most devout social groups in Australia than other universities and because those students were then proselytized by religious societies that operated effectively and with strong clerical support in a small, cohesive institution. The ethos of UNE was broadly Christian, perhaps more so than that of metropolitan universities.

This fits with my own experience. I was a member of the Methodist Youth Fellowship and Student Christian Movement and had friends involved with the Evangelical Union and with the Roman Catholic student group. Yet change processes were already clear along a number of dimensions: within religious groups themselves, there was much debate about new theological ideas; students wanted less formality, less rigid rules; while in practice most girls were to follow the traditional routes of marriage and family, there was considerable discussion about gender roles; while attitudes towards sex and sexuality were clearly changing.

These changing attitudes affected the broader community. 

Kenneth Dempsey's Conflict and Decline: Ministers and laymen in an Australian country town (Methuen Australia, North Ryde, 1983) is a sociological study of the changing relationships between ministers and lay people in a Methodist community (Uralla near Armidale) in New England from 1905 to mid 1967, written by a man who lived in the community to carry out the study. The 1967 end date is significant because it predates the very big changes that were to come.

The period after 1950 was one of growing conflict and decline in the Uralla Methodist Circuit directly associated with broader cultural change that affected the ministry.     

Increasingly, minister's wives were no longer prepared to play the traditional pastoral roles expected of them. Increasingly, the ministers themselves came to Uralla in part to advance their studies at the nearby University of New England, creating conflict with their much older and less well educated senior laity who were suspicious that their circuit (and financial contributions) was being used simply as a means to the end.

Perhaps most important of all, the new ministers were affected by and reflected the waves of intellectual and theological change sweeping the Church. An aging, conservative, country congregation found themselves dealing with younger ministers who wanted to substitute reading from the newspapers for bible readings, who wanted to debate the moral issues of the Vietnam war, who wanted to energise their congregation to go out and convert.

The results were a disaster on both sides.

Of the ten ministers who served in Uralla between 1950 and 1967, no less than six resigned from the ministry immediately or soon after leaving Uralla. This disaster for the Church was finally matched by the abolition of Uralla circuit, leaving the Uralla laity as part of an Armidale circuit whose whole tone was set by its proximity to the nearby university.

The overall pace of change accelerated from the late sixties.

At The Armidale School, the headmaster (Alan Cash) found himself dealing with a rebellious student body who challenged school rules and dress codes. Cousin Will who was at the school then has some fairly graphic tales of the conflicts that took place. The old uniform was abolished and rules altered.

Similar events took place at UNE. Some of the issues and tensions are recorded in Mathew Jordon's A spirit of true learning: The Jubliee History of the University of New England (University of New South Wales Press, 2004 pp 180ff). One small side-effect was the abolition of student gowns.

A more telling statistic is provided by Don Beer: whereas in the first half of the 1960s over half of the student body was highly religious, by the late 1970s the proportion had fallen to one-fifth to one-quarter. Associated with this, was a transformation of religious activity marked by the reassertion of Christian denominationalism and the emergence of a non-Christian spiritual sensibility.

Nimbin domes73 In some ways the 1973 Aquarius Festival held at the small Northern Rivers village of Nimbin marked the symbolic height of the 1970s' change process.

In 1972, scouts from the Australian Union of Students came to the village and persuaded the Nimbin Progress Association to allow a festival to be held there. The result in 1973 was a ten day festival -  a celebration of the dawning of the `Consciousness' and `Protest' movements in the heady days of the Vietnam war, free love and marijuana - a festival of discovery. The photo shows domes at the Festival.

Nimbin entered Australian popular culture as a potent symbolic marker. Yet I think of it as the peak because of changed economic conditions.

In 1973, the same year as Nimbin, the first oil shock marked the start of a period of economic turmoil that led to radically changed conditions. For the first time in almost thirty years, young people faced real unemployment. By 1979, undergraduate students on the campus at the University of New England had largely withdrawn not just from political activities, but indeed from most student activities other than the social.

However, they left a changed world. 


Winton Bates said...

That post brought back some memories, Jim.
I also learned something. I had never previously thought of the UNE as the holiest campus in Australia. I had always suspected that it might hold the record for average consumption of alcohol per student. But, I suppose those two observations are not necessarily in conflict.
When I think back to the time when I was at UNE as an undergraduate I am amazed that we wore gowns to lectures - and I don't think we complained much about it either. Things certainly have changed.

5:40 PM, May 04, 2010

Jim Belshaw said...

Beer (or sherry) and religion indeed, Winton. It took me back too. Did you know that as Winston Bates you appear in Jordan's history of the university?
I don't think that any of us really objected to gowns or, indeed, to many of the notional rules beyond room visiting restrictions. Why object when you actually have all the real freedom you need? Indeed, we had much more real freedom than students do today.
While in Armidale last I walked past the old sublodge, then the Neucleus student newspaper office and now the International Students Association Office. Remember Bed, Bool and Gardeners?
Sad that Neucleus appears to have died with the abolition of student fees. After all, the neuc part stood for New England University College. So we lost another part of our shared history.

6:07 PM, May 04, 2010

Neil said...

Trust you enjoyed the sequel -- and Marilyn's comment on the original post.

8:47 PM, May 04, 2010

Winton Bates said...

I'm not sure whether or not I should be pleased that Matthew (whose name is also easy to mis-spell) Jordan referred to Winston rather than Winton. I found the reference on google books, but no preview was available of the relevant page.
Perhaps I should buy the book.

9:25 PM, May 04, 2010

Winton Bates said...

Sorry about 'barefic'! For reasons I don't understand the word verification got mixed up with the post.

9:28 PM, May 04, 2010

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Neil. Marilyn's comment was not up when I wrote. I had to laugh. I can think of equivalent examples from Armidale. Yes, I did enjoy the second post. In the small world class, I knew Geoffrey Borny when he was at UNE.

6:00 AM, May 05, 2010

Jim Belshaw said...

Winton, you should buy the book, but I will put the quote up for you. Ouch re my mis-spelling of Matthew!

6:05 AM, May 05, 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Social Change in New England 1950-2000 3: Church, state and social change in Australia

Continuing the process of bringing together my writings relevant to social change in New England 1950-2000, this post was first published on 7 July 2009. It discusses three very different but linked books, one a sociological study of the Methodist Church in Uralla between 1905 to midway 1967, the second the history of the Ursaline Order in Australia between 1882 and 1982, the third published in 1972 is an analysis of the development and organisation of the Country Party in NSW.

Three apparently different books, yet linked. The post includes personal material because this was a personal as well as historical post.

The more I research and write, the more I realise the scale of social change in the second half of the twentieth century.

Some of those changes such as the changes in the Roman Catholic Church were externally imposed, then played out at a national, regional and local level. Others were national but played out locally, still others were regional or local. These changes interacted with each other to the point that it can be difficult to determine what was what.

I think that the post is reasonably well written. I hope that you enjoy it.

Sunday Essay - church, state and social change in Australia

On Christmas Day 1884, Bishop Torreggiani was celebrating mass in the Roman Catholic cathedral in Armidale. A deranged Irish road worker tried to stab him, but failed because of the Bishop's vestments. He then pulled out a revolver and tried to shoot the Bishop, but failed again, with the bullet passing through the vestments. The vestments with the bullet hole are still held in the Armidale cathedral.

This post has been triggered by musings on three apparently very different books.

The first is Kenneth Dempsey's Conflict and Decline: Ministers and laymen in an Australian country town (Methuen Australia, North Ryde, 1983). This is a sociological study of the changing relationships between ministers and lay people in a Methodist community in New England from 1905 to mid 1967 written by a man who lived in the community to carry out the study.

The second book is Pauline Kneipp's This Land of Promise. The Ursuline Order in Australia 1882-1982 (University of New England History Series 2, Armidale, 1982). This is a history of this order of nuns from their initial Australian establishment in Armidale written by a member of the order who was also a member of the University of New England's history department.

The third book is Don Aitkin's The Country Party in New South Wales: a study of organisation and survival (Australian National University Press, 1972). As the title says, Don's book is an organisational study of a political party from its establishment through to the end of the 1960s.

I have a special interest in all three books because of family and locality connections. However, beyond this the books have some common linkages that together make for an interesting mix.

All three book overlap in time. All three are concerned with organisational survival and change over periods of great change in Australian society. All three are connected in some way with faith, whether it be church or party.

Ken Dempsey's towns are disguised.

The Barool Methodist circuit centres on Barool, a small country town. About 8km northwest from Barool lies the farming and orchard centre of Treeleigh. Not far away from both lies the educational centre of Highcliffe. Barool, Treeleigh and Highcliffe - the relations between the three form one thread in the book.

This is a slightly uncomfortable if interesting book from my viewpoint.

I went to Methodist Sunday School in Highcliffe, was a member of the Order of Knights and of the Methodist Youth Fellowship. My grandmother was born in Treeleigh, my grandparents married there, my mother attended Church and Sunday School at Treeleigh when staying with her grandparents. Some of the lay people Dempsey talks about are members of my broader family. All this provides a very particular context. Don Aitkin, too, would find aspects of the book very familiar since I think that he actually lived in Barool while attending high school in Highcliffe.

Even though Ken Dempsey disguises the towns, he talks about Highcliffe as a nearby coastal city, anybody who knows anything about the area would quickly make the connections. Highcliffe is Armidale, Barool is Uralla, Treeleigh is Arding.

Founded by John Wesley, the Methodist Church began as an evangelical movement within the Anglican Church.

On 17 May 1738 after attending a meeting conducted by a group known as the Church of the Brethren, John Wesley wrote in his diary:

I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.

Within months of his conversion, Wesley started preaching in the open-air to miners and factory workers, winning thousands of converts with his message that the love of God was for all men, irrespective of social class, wealth or religious heritage.

The new movement developed an autocratic flavour that would seem familiar today in a somewhat different context.

The only condition of membership was a desire to flee from the wrath to come. However, once joined, converts were expected to attend worship at the local parish church, receive the ministrations of its clergymen and subordinate himself or herself to an exacting discipline.

Initially, Wesley organised his members into local societies. Each society was divided into cells called classes. Each class comprised eleven members under the leadership of a layman. The leaders would call on members weekly to collect dues and admonish those straying from the rules. The classes met regularly for bible study, for prayer and to personally testify what God was doing for them. Those who did not comply with the rules were expelled.

With more members, Wesley organised the societies into circuits, with himself as superintendent for each circuit. Lay people were appointed to partially deputise for him in every circuit. During Wesley's life, the movement remained within the Anglican Church. However, after his death, the highly centralised, autocratic and well-disciplined organisation of Methodism facilitated its shift into an independent denomination. It was also a denomination that was to split, including especially the creation of the Primitive Methodists in 1811.

All this may sound a long way from Uralla, but there are some features of this brief history that are relevant to later events.

Methodism was a movement that appealed to the working and lower middle class. However, the very disciplines and structures of Methodism with their emphasis on hard work, mutual support, education and abstemious  behaviour made for a degree of material success.

In my own case, Grandfather Belshaw was an industrial worker who became a Primitive Methodist Home Missionary in New Zealand. There is just one generation between me, two generations in the case of my daughters, and the harsh industrial world of England into which my paternal grandparents were born in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Methodism was also a movement that combined central autocracy with a degree of lay responsibility. As the Church and its members became more successful, the Church moved away to some degree from its evangelical roots, seeking to retain members. Yet the Church tradition and culture remained in what was called the Connexion, the name given to Church organisation and structures.

Many of the original Methodists came to Uralla in search of gold at the nearby Rocky River goldfields and as free-selectors following the passage of the Robertson land acts that allowed people to select blocks from the big pastoral runs.

By April 1905 when Uralla achieved its long held desire for its own circuit and independence from Armidale, Uralla's social structure had been set in a form that would hold for the following decades.

At the top were local squatters, generally Anglican or Presbyterian. Then came the middle class: local business people and farmers who were generally Methodist and had achieved success through hard-work. Then came the lower middle or working class such as shop assistants or rural workers. Here the Catholic Church was strong.

The relative numbers of each group were reflected in voting patterns. Farmers, graziers and town business people voted Country Party, the rest Labor. For much of the twentieth century, Uralla was a Labor Party town. My maternal grandfather was first State and then Federal member for the area that included Uralla from 1920 to 1963. In all that time I think he gained a majority in Uralla once, in 1932 at the height of the reaction against the Lang Labor Government.     

In looking at the history of Methodism in Uralla, Dempsey broke it into two periods: years of harmony 1905-1949, followed by years of conflict 1950-1967. The differences between the two periods partially reflect differing ministerial styles. They also reflect economic, demographic and cultural change.

Dealing first with demographic and economic change.

One of the reasons why Don Aitkin added the words "organisation and survival" to the title of his book on the Country Party lies in the nature of the economic and demographic change that has taken place in Australia over the last one hundred and forty or so years.

In the Australia of 2009, it is hard to believe that majority of the Australian population once lived outside the capital cities. The decline in country Australia began in the nineteenth century, but accelerated during the twentieth century and especially in the period after the Second World War. Uralla really suffered - by the 1960s and 1970s even its main stores had closed.

This decline reduced the population available to the Methodist Church. However, the Church's decline was accentuated by other factors. A key was the social structure of the Church itself. To survive, the Church had to reach out beyond its now middle class base; it could not because of the attitudes of its membership and especially its senior laity. Dempsey quotes case after case where those in the lower middle and working classes with some connection to Methodism dropped out because they felt excluded.

This problem was accentuated by cultural changes that divided ministers from laity.

In looking at this issue, Dempsey distinguishes between what he calls consensual and conflictual styles.

The Methodist Church's Connexion had always, and this reflects the Church's history, given the Minister ultimate formal authority. Ministers were appointed centrally, not by the circuit, and answered centrally. They had a role to preach and convert, to extend the influence of the Church.

Despite the Church's formal position, in the period between 1905 and 1950, Uralla ministers generally saw their role in strictly parish terms. They were there to minister to their parishioners; the senior laity really controlled the circuit.

This was a complex and demanding role on ministers and their wives and children. They were expected to represent what the laity saw as the austere moral values of the Church in their lives. They also had to comply with the perceived culture of the Church inherited from its past in terms of their approach to ministry.

A key example was home visits. Ministers were expected to visit Church members in their homes. They were also expected to minister to the young. The failure of individual ministers to do both to the satisfaction of the laity were some of the most frequently cited reasons for negative attitudes towards individual ministers.

From 1950, cultural change in Australia affected the ministry.

Increasingly, minister's wives were no longer prepared to play the traditional pastoral roles expected of them. Increasingly, the ministers themselves came to Uralla in part to advance their studies at the nearby University of New England, creating conflict with their much older and less well educated senior laity who were suspicious that their circuit (and financial contributions) was being used simply as a means to the end.

Perhaps most important of all, the new ministers were affected by and reflected the waves of intellectual and theological change sweeping the Church. An aging, conservative, country congregation found themselves dealing with younger ministers who wanted to substitute reading from the newspapers for bible readings, who wanted to debate the moral issues of the Vietnam war, who wanted to energise their congregation to go out and convert.

I remember this last period well because of my involvement in the Methodist Youth Fellowship. There was a real excitement in the debate on theological issues and what it meant for Church and life. However, I can also understand the position of the Uralla laity who felt that Ministers had ceased to meet their needs. Conflict replaced consensus. 

The results were a disaster on both sides.

Of the ten ministers who served in Uralla between 1950 and 1967, no less than six resigned from the ministry immediately or soon after leaving Uralla. This disaster for the Church was finally matched by the abolition of Uralla circuit, leaving the Uralla laity as part of an Armidale circuit whose whole tone was set by its proximity to the nearby university.

Reading Ken Dempsey's description of the process I was struck by the apparent similarities with the County  Party experience.

Like Methodism, the early Country Party in New England had an evangelical, populist, feel. Unlike Methodism, the New England dominated NSW Party explicitly rejected rigid central control; no pre-selection or pledge was adopted as an early slogan to distinguish the Party from its metropolitan and centrally controlled rivals.

This rejection of central control did not apply in all the newly emerging Country Parties. In Victoria, for example, the Party did adopt the pledge system that applied in the Labor Party. Parliamentarians were pledged to comply with Party policy. However, in NSW the concept of the independence of parliamentarians was deeply imbedded.

Like the Methodist Church's Connexion, the Country Party's success meant that it developed a central organisation dedicated to the continuance and success of the Party. This continued independent of the rise and fall of the Party in individual areas.

Interestingly, too, the most politically active branches were also the least stable and for the same reasons that activist reforming Ministers experienced trouble within Uralla. Political activism built numbers, but also created and highlighted divisions on specific issues. The most stable branches and electorates were those where Party officials and local parliamentary representatives focused on the Party equivalent of their pastoral or representation role.

Like the Methodist Church in Uralla and for the same reasons, the Country Party and its membership had become older and more conservative by the 1950s. The Country Party represented thousands of Urallas, and suffered just as much as the Uralla Church from the loss of young people from country areas. The branches of the Country Party youth wing struggled to survive in the same way as did Uralla's Methodist young people's groups.

We can see the same type of broader issues, the interplay between Church, organisation and changing community, in the Roman Catholic Church.

To some degree, the attempted assignation of Bishop Torreggiani in 1884 by a deranged Irishman was a side effect of broader trends playing out in the Catholic Church.

Initially, the Catholic Church in Australia was dominated by English orders. Their dominance was successfully challenged by the Irish Catholic Church who established almost total control over the Australian Church. The diocese of Armidale under Torreggiano was unusual in that Torriegiano was Italian and saw the role of the Church in broader terms, reaching out to the whole community, not just the Roman Catholic faithful.    

This view was not shared by many of his Irish colleagues. Fearful of what they saw as secular tendencies in Australian society, distrustful of the English and with strong historical grudges, they were determined to maintain control over their congregations.

When in 1880 the NSW Government under Sir Henry Parkes introduced a new state education system and in so doing withdrew financial support from Catholic schools, the Church responded by launching a huge program to build their own schools to protect the faith and the faithful. This inflamed sectarian tendencies; the Church withdrew into what became a self-imposed ghetto apart from the broader Australian community. Even in Armidale, Bishop Torrieggiani's broader vision was finally replaced by a narrower world in which Catholics came to mix with their own from tennis clubs to welfare organisations.

Pauline Kneipp's view of this ghettoing process is not sympathetic.

Writing as a Church insider, she suggests that until the 1860s the Church had an opportunity to develop into a vital social and cultural force in what was basically an open secular society. She also points to the way events far beyond Australia shattered the dream of the first Australian Bishop, John Bede Polding, to make the Australian Church a Benedictine mission which would help bring learning and culture to the country in the way the Benedictine tradition had done for centuries in Europe. These included the opposition of Pope Pius IX to liberalism and other modern developments including secular education, as well as the influence of Cardinal Cullen, an Irishman whose interest in Australia ensured that a steady stream of Irish bishops filled the new dioceses being established.    

In many ways, the process in the Roman Catholic Church was no different from the attempts of some Methodist ministers in Uralla to build activities and organisations that would encourage the faithful to mix with the faithful independent of the broader society. This failed because there were just too few Methodists. When it came to the choice, the laity nearly always opted for the broader alternative. The Catholic Church was more successful simply because of its size.        

The construction of the Roman Catholic school system after 1880 itself is a quite remarkable story. This was no small endeavour. Inspired by faith that God would provide, huge building programs were launched well in advance of funding.

Buildings were one thing, teachers another. To find the teachers, all the Bishops looked to the religious orders. They were the industrial canon fodder on which expansion depended. Bishops begged and pleaded to obtain support for their particular endeavours.

In Bishop Torrieggiani's case, when he arrived in Armidale he had just two schools across a huge diocese of more than 10,00 square miles.

First he persuaded an Australian Order, the Sisters of St Joseph, to establish a school at Tenterfield.  Founded at Penola in South Australia in 1866 by Mary Mackillop, the Sisters were to run a number of schools in the Armidale diocese including one at Uralla. Then Torrieggiani persuaded a group of Ursuline nuns exiled from Bismark's Germany to come to Armidale to establish a new school.

The Ursulines date their foundation to 25 November 1583 when a  small group of twenty eight women and girls met in the Northern Italian city of Brescia. Under the influence of Angela Merici, they attended mass and then signed their names in the Book of the Company of St. Ursula. In doing so, they signified their willingness to commit themselves to God, living according to the rules drawn up for them by Angela.

The initial Ursulines lived in and served the community. The new order spread rapidly in a decentralised way. Church pressure then transformed them from an open to a cloistered group, but they retained the tradition of openness and community contribution.     

The Ursuline nuns that arrived in Armidale in 1882 were highly educated but spoke very little English. They found a very different world, far removed from the European culture that they had known. The first school they established, St Ursula's in Armidale, quickly became a success.

Initially the Ursulines concentrated their educational focus on educating their girls not just in religion, but in the culture the nuns had brought from Europe. They saw education in broad, holistic, terms. Then, recognising the growing importance of exams and of further education,they began preparing girls for public examinations.

One can argue about this switch. Pauline Kneipp recognised that it was a loss in a broader educational sense, but it also had an important side-effect.

At a time when the Church focused especially on the need to provide mass primary education and was in fact suspicious of education for women, girls from St Ursula's in Armidale were entering University or Teacher's College. In this sense, the Ursulines were well in front of broader social trends.

The Ursulines'  new Australian establishment quickly came under pressure to establish schools from bishops desperate to meet the educational needs in their dioceses.

Initially the nuns resisted this pressure, there were not many of them after all and they had a lot to do already, but then began the process of establishing new ventures. The order spread slowly from its Armidale headquarters, supported in part by girls from its schools who themselves accepted the call to join the order. One final side-effect of this spread was the shift in the Australian headquarters from Armidale to Canberra.

The processes of change that affected the Methodists of Uralla or the County Party after the Second World War also played out in the Catholic Church, if on a far larger scale.

The mass Australian mass migration program that began at the end of the Second World War brought to Australia more than a million non-Irish Catholics. The Church and its orders such as the Ursulines struggled to build and staff the schools required to educate the new arrivals. Then came waves of change and reform that swept the Church and confused the laity, but even more so the religious whose entire life had been built around previous structures.

The Ursulines were better prepared than most to deal with the changes, if only because they had had a more open outlook. Even so, there were great strains.

Internally, the order had to deal with pressures to create more centralised structures. Here the Australian order became part of the Congregation of Rome, a province in a broader international organisation. Decisions were no longer made just at a local level. 

There were new ways of doing things, including the requirement that all nuns must spend a year studying overseas. This withdrew teachers at a time when recruitment to the order was dropping. The number of lay teachers increased to the point that they far out-numbered the religious.

The nuns themselves wanted to do new things, to widen their vocation from the order's focus on teaching. The aging of the order also meant that there were more retired or semi-retired nuns. Dress itself changed, with the abolition of previous restrictive rules.

Change piled on change piled on change.

At a purely local Armidale level, the decision by the De La Salle Brothers to withdraw from teaching in Armidale meant the closure of De La Salle College.

From a purely personal viewpoint, this meant the end of one of the traditional rival schools against which I played Rugby every Wednesday afternoon in winter. It also meant the end of Armidale's St Ursula College, for the decision was made to merge De La (as we always called it) with St Ursula's to form a new Catholic High School.

Finishing this post still on a purely personal note, I do not regret the end of the sectarian tensions that marked Australia's past. My wife in fact comes from the NSW Catholic English/Irish/Labor Party tradition. I do regret the loss of some elements of that past.

One of the reasons I get on so well with my mother-in-law, a wonderful woman who I think is the greatest, is that we share this sense of loss. Neither of us would want to go back to the past. But how do I explain to my daughters the sense of rivalry between De La as we always called it and my school when De La no longer exists?

A story to finish.

Back in the 1930s the two schools were playing Rugby. A fight broke out on the field. The TAS boys pulled pailings of the fence and chased the De la boys back to their school. They arrived to find the De La gates locked. They opened, and led by the brothers wielding sticks, the De La boys chased the TAS boys back to TAS.

I have no idea whether this story is true. Still, it's not a bad story.       

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Social Change in New England 1950-2000 2: Don Aitkin's What was it all for?

Don Aitkin's What was it all for? The Reshaping of Australia[1] is a remarkably good book.

For the benefit of international readers, Don Aitkin is a very senior academic, an historian and political economist. From his beginnings at the University of New England, he became Professor of Politics at Macquarie University in the 1970s, and then Professor of Political Science in the Research School of Social Sciences in the ANU. In 1988 he was appointed the foundation Chairman of the Australian Research Council, and it was from this post that he joined the University of Canberra in 1991 as VC.

Don was born on 4 August 1937. His did his initial schooling in Canberra, where he was in the same class as and a friend with Max Ellis, son of Ulrich Ellis[2]. At twelve, he came to Uralla when his father accepted a teaching appointment there, enrolling in second year at Armidale High School. He felt isolated and missed his Canberra friends.

Don did the Leaving Certificate, the precursor of the High School Certificate, at Armidale High in 1953. Fifty years later, he went back for a reunion of the class of 53. This led him to think of an article that became a book, looking at change in Australia since the Second World War through the prism set by the experiences and attitudes of the class of 53.

Don is a very skilled writer. His two early books on the NSW Country Party have strongly influenced my own writing, although my focus is a little different. Don focused on the Party, whereas I came to see the Party as a part of what I called the broader regional movements including the New State movements.

His introduction provides an overview to the whole book. This is followed by a snapshot of Australia and Armidale at the time the book starts.

I found this valuable because it provides a benchmark against which to measure change. It is also, I think, a useful technique to use in general histories. Don also uses overviews to set a context for his deeper and more personal analysis.

Lives in Two Halves

In many ways, the lives of the class of 1953 break into two halves.

The first half begins with a conservative, regulated, socially constricted society. Yet this was also a world of low unemployment (2 per cent was considered a Government breaker), of economic security and opportunity.

The second half is a word of change, of de-regulation, of downsizing, the end of permanent jobs. It was also a world of greater social freedoms, of advancements in a whole range of fields, of substantial increases in wealth. The class of 53 would generally not go back to the old world, but it is clear that by the end of the period under study a sense of unease had developed, along with a deep weariness at the pace of change.

New Australians

One of Don's points is the remarkable capacity of Australia to accept social change, including especially the presence of so many migrants. Here he uses Canada as an equivalent benchmark, arguing that only Australia and Canada among developed countries went through such large social change, a remodeling of society, although the relative scale was greater in Australia.

He suggests that one reason Australia was able to absorb so many migrants from different backgrounds lay in the national consensus welcoming migration.

The term New Australian is no longer used and might today be seen as very suspect. The point, however, is that the term applied to all new migrants. They were new, but were also seen as Australian, at least Australians to be.

Today, the term Australian is applied only to citizens. There is no modern equivalent to New Australians, a term that applied regardless of formal citizenship.

Changes in the World of Work

While Don's view of the changes that have taken place in Australia is generally positive, he also recognises the negatives. Here his chapter on the world of work provides a quite penetrating picture of the changes that have taken place.

It is men, rather than women, who have been the notable casualties in the transformation of work. It is certainly the case that nearly 30 per cent of men aged 25 and more cannot find full time work, while part-time work has to some extent been colonised by women and the young (p121).

No one would deny, I think, that the position of women has improved enormously. The women in the class of 53 had far fewer opportunities open to them than their equivalents today. I also suspect, although this one is less certain, that few would want to go back to some of the hard physical labour that still existed in the 1950s before machines reduced the load.

All this said, the working world today is in some ways less pleasant, less secure, harder, than it was when the class of 53 began work.

Working hours have increased. The once stereotypical easy going casual Australian has been replaced by a far more competitive and driven person.

To my mind, and I have monitored this quite closely, actual working hours have not increased as much as people think. What has happened is that somewhat longer working hours have combined with longer travel time to get to work. Then, most recently, the new communications technologies have led to an invasion by work into previous domestic space. We all know the people unable to put their blackberries aside.

Increased working hours have been associated with another trend. Don puts it this way: “for one overwhelming change to the world of work in the second half of the twentieth century was the end of security of tenure” (p101).

I do not think that the importance of this can be overstated. During a period of rapid change, jobs vanished, new one appeared. Again to quote Don: “one sad rule is that the people displaced are hardly ever the people who gain the new jobs” (p102).

The casualisation of work, the rise of contractors, the loss of jobs, have all combined to create a pervasive sense of uncertainty. Incomes have increased, driven in part by the rise of two income families, but this has come at a cost.

Professions and Professionalisation

Another feature of the world of work has been the parallel rise and fall of the professions.

Professions and sub-professions have proliferated. There are now more professions and professionals than at any previous time in human history. Yet the prestige of the professions has declined in parallel. The social cachet once associated with being a professional has largely gone.

In some ways the saddest group in the class of 53 were the school teachers. Saddest is my word, not theirs. They loved their work, yet most seem to have taken early retirement. The issue was not money, although teachers' salaries have declined in relative terms and are unlikely to recover. Rather, the fun went out of it as they coped with increasing rules and complexities.

The teachers were not alone. The same pattern occurred across other professional groups and for the same reasons. In a sense, the class of 53 were lucky in that they were on old style super schemes, making it easier for them to exit. The loss to the community from early retirement, from people opting out even while working, is one of the unseen costs of social change.

Rise of New Concepts

Throughout the book, Don traces the rise of new concepts.

In 1951, economy was something that households and individuals practiced. Fifty years later it was one of three great collectives. Again to quote Don:

'society' describes us as individuals, families and organisations; 'polity' refers to us as citizens, voters and democrats; and 'economy' includes us as workers, spenders and investors (p41).

One of the words that Don looks at is 'choice'. Today, the concept of choice has become a central justification for many measures: people must have choice.

This concept did not exist, or did not exist in the same form, in 1953. Then Governments were simply trying to provide a basic common standard of service. Then, too, the range of options open to people was less. Whether the emphasis on choice has in fact delivered better results is, to my mind, open to question.

Another word Don mentions is 'compliance', indeed a very popular word today. In the professions, for example, he suggests that compliance has in fact replaced the old concept of professional independence.

He also suggests, and I found this interesting, that there has been a direct link between withdrawal of Governments from activities (another feature of the last fifty years) and the rise of compliance. As Governments withdrew, they placed greater emphasis on compliance as a way of still enforcing their position.

What Happened to the Dream?

The last chapter in the book is entitled what happened to the dream?

While Don is positive about many of the changes that have taken to place – he regards the expansion of education as the greatest single achievement - , he also points to the way that the old social compact that used to underpin Australian has gone without anything coming in its place.

He suggests, and I agree, that we need a national conversation about the ideals that should underpin the way Australia works.

New England Issues

While Don uses the class of 53 as a prism through which to tease out national trends, in another sense the whole book is also about New England.

At the time the class of 53 completed their schooling, the proportion of the Australian population completing secondary school was still quite small, the proportion going on to university smaller still. Don makes the point that those doing the Leaving Certificate in 1953 were not necessarily the brightest. They were there because their parents chose that they should be there.

Fights for improved education form one of themes in New England’s history. Yet it is also true that there was a degree of suspicion about education and especially tertiary education.

In an appendix (p261ff), Don lists the class, where they came from, what they became. I haven’t analysed the patterns fully yet, but certain things stand out.

Reflecting Armidale’s role as an educational centre, some of those in the class came from educational or professional backgrounds. However, many of those who went on to further education were the first in their families to do so. As education expanded, it drew in more and more such students.

Only a relatively small proportion of the class remained in New England, fewer still in Armidale. Education provided a vehicle for social mobility; the class went in all directions, depending on their careers. The importance of teaching as an occupational group reflects not just the expansion in education that was now underway, but also the importance of teaching as a path for social advancement.

In some ways, the expansion in education was a two edged sword, for the absence of certain types of jobs in New England made emigration inevitable. This pattern was accentuated by the changes to the world of work that the Don talks about.

From the 1970s on, one local manifestation of the broader structural changes taking place in the Australian economy was an occupational hollowing as certain types of jobs were reduced or even vanished entirely. A number of the class of 53 experienced this type of effect.

The patterns of structural change varied to some extent across New England depending on the local economic base. However, that’s a matter for later analysis.

[1] Don Aitkin, What was it all for? The Reshaping of Australia, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, 2005

[2] Max Ellis personal communication